How Chicago’s Startup Ecosystem Is Assembly the Covid-19 Problem

The last Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, was fond of suggesting, “You never want a serious crisis to be undone.” Although Chicago, along with every other major city and the rest of the country, has suffered badly from this pandemic and continues to suffer, the truth is that – as Rahm would often also notice – the Covid-19 crisis has emerged and accelerated opportunities for the city of achieving things that the people here thought were practically impossible. New levels of collaboration, collaboration and engagement from business, civic and religious groups and organizations of all sizes have enabled the city to begin 2021 with a vitality and vision for a better future that no virus can darken or defeat.

In many ways, this exciting journey began and continues to depend on a strong and stable startup community. Startups have created 40 million jobs over the past three decades, and those jobs have been the only net new jobs in the US economy. Today’s startup scene in Chicago is stronger, broader, more diverse and more productive than ever. Nowhere has the transformative power of passionate and tenacious business builders been more clearly and convincingly demonstrated than here in the city of big shoulders. Creative destruction and disruptive innovation are at the heart of entrepreneurship. Carl Sandburg’s poem Chicago named the critical iterative steps of:

Build, break, rebuild.

It is the creed of every great entrepreneur.

Startups create new businesses that create new jobs and create novel solutions that are essential to saving lives and surviving last year. Since 2012, Chicago-based startups have created more than 16,500 jobs and raised nearly $ 2 billion in investor capital, according to ChicagoNEXT and World Business Chicago. When the virus hit in March, Chicago early-stage companies like Rheaply teamed up with the city and built tools and exchanges to help local nonprofits and businesses source PPE. Others, like InstaShield, have moved production lines to quickly create masks and shields. Still others, like Lisa, developed service offerings and teams to support and support the frontline caregivers. Chicago Central Technology Center, 1871, which I directed for many years as CEO, combined its efforts with other newer incubators focused on medical and manufacturing solutions like MATTER and mHUB to help develop new solutions and provide access to them Content, mentors, and expand other resources in the tech and startup community.

The Covid-19 virus violently accelerated plans of 1871 to move from a focus on a single physical location to a broader focus on the 1871 learning experience that could be more widely shared. 1871 goes digital beyond its long-standing home at The Merchandise Mart in the central business district, driving content delivery and on-demand instruction to hundreds of online learners in 15 different neighborhoods in Chicago. Its reach is expected to ultimately touch every neighborhood in the city.

These types of expanded and shared resource and access strategies will be vital in any major city to address pressing social and educational needs and demands. Once the virus is under control and we have vaccines, we need to address the historic vacuum in our cities and apply the many virtual tools we have developed and rely on to weather current storms to deal with future and more painful ones avoid social disturbances. Covid-19 has taught us that we are all inextricably linked and that no one is an isolated or isolated island. No city can be successful in the long run if key parts of its community are excluded or ignored, and every company must be part of the solution.

Interestingly, more traditional and larger companies (with enormous fixed costs and other overheads) are far more affected by the virus than the agile and resilient startups in Chicago that have adapted and successfully used new business opportunities on a broad front. In fact, many of the city’s largest companies are looking for startups for support, suggestions, and new approaches and solutions. For example, Abbvie and Mayo Clinic work closely with THYNG to develop medical augmented reality applications.

While retail, restaurants, entertainment, and real estate were likely the hardest hit industries, aggressive startups with technology have grown rapidly in increasingly critical areas like telemedicine (e.g. Livongo), digital learning (eSpark learning and others), and logistics in particular (e.g. FourKites) when we move from a “just in time” world to a more conservative “just in case” approach. Chicago startups like Forager enable and guide the migration of large and small businesses as they focus much more on redundancy and resilience today than just inventory management and cost reduction.

Chicago has emerged from disasters before – most notably the Chicago fire of 1871. Overcoming Covid-19 and its lengthy and painful aftermath will not be an easy journey for the city, the state, or even a well-intentioned federal government to take could just solve for us. Success requires the commitment, sacrifice and cooperation of every single citizen in every city. Chicago’s strong startup ecosystem and the passion, tenacity, and work ethic of our employees have positioned our city to help advance the indictment.

The opinions expressed by columnists here are their own, not those of

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